Earlier this week, I photographed Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman for her hometown newspaper, the Needham Times. She was doing a press event sponsored by Poland Spring where she sat under a green tent plastered with the Poland Spring logo for hours on end in front of the Needham Town Hall while reporter after reporter came to have a 10 minute conversation with her. The girl seemed weary, to say the least. Weary of the questions about how it feels to be an Olympian and weary of the cameras. But most of all she seemed weary of the fans. And this sort of broke my heart.
The press event wasn’t really meant to be a public thing. Despite the fact that it was held in front of Town Hall in the middle of a summer day, the organizers confessed that they didn’t really want a crowd gathering. Still, word got out. Someone saw Aly and called their friends who called their friends who called their friends and soon enough there were a few dozen people standing on the Town Hall lawn, trying to catch a glimpse of their local hero. In my humble estimations, there were 50-60 people there, about 75% of whom were young girls. More than half of the crowd was under the age of 12. And more than half of them were clutching smart phones and small cameras so they could memorialize their moment with Aly.
Only there was no moment. There were no autographs. There was no waving and smiling to the crowd. There were no inspiring conversations with 11 year old girls who aspire to be Olympic gymnasts. Aly hardly acknowledged them. It was more than disappointing. Not only for me, but for the kids who were standing in the sun, getting more bored and tired by the minute as they waited for their hero to just glance their way.
And this is why I feel badly for Aly Raisman. She seems too young (or too immature) to understand that she IS a hero and needs to act like one. She seems too self-involved to look up from her iPhone at the crowd of kids, pleading for her attention. She seems too focused on her own importance to give a word of inspiration to the aspiring gymnasts who look up to her. And she seems too egoistic to remember that she once had heroes, too; that she once looked up to other gymnasts and would have given anything to see them smile or shake their hand.
Not only that, but she doesn’t seem to have anyone who is coaching her on HOW TO be a hometown hero. Aly is so inexperienced at being a spokeswoman – for gymnastics or a corporate brand or the town of Needham – that when asked how she balanced school and gymnastics for the last several years, she responded that the never could have done it would good hydration and pointed to her favorite bottle of “Poland Spring Natural Spring Water.” I think she is in a little over her head.
I feel badly for her. During a 5 minute break between reporters at her Needham Town Hall event, Aly played on her cell phone and ate a bowl of fruit salad while her adoring fans watched and waited. It’s like she didn’t care about them at all. But Poor Aly – she doesn’t remember that her fans will play a critical role in keeping her at the top.
You think hydration is important, Aly?
P.S. Be sure to check out the Needham Times’ lovely and generous article about Aly’s triumphant return to Needham.